Key Early Breakdown - Cincinnati at Tennessee
UC RB Isaiah Pead & Tennessee Tauren Poole
UC RB Isaiah Pead & Tennessee Tauren Poole
Posted Jun 5, 2011

Looking ahead at the Early Matchups - Cincinnati at Tennessee

Preview 2011

Key Early Matchup - UC at Tenn

- 2011 Cincinnati Preview | 2011 Cincinnati Offense
- 2011 Cincinnati Defense | 2011 Cincinnati Depth Chart
- Cincinnati Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

- 2011 Tennessee Preview | 2011 Tennessee Offense
- 2011 Tennessee Defense | 2011 Tennessee Depth Chart
- Tennessee Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006


Offense: Yeah, Cincinnati led the Big East in scoring and total offense, but anyone who's followed the program recognized that the attack wasn't quite the same. The Bearcats lacked the same punch and crispness as when Brian Kelly was calling the shot, producing 11 fewer points a game. The program gets a second chance with Butch Jones' spread attack, looking for far more potency than in 2010. Everything will revolve around the conference's best backfield, which is led by QB Zach Collaros and RB Isaiah Pead. The seniors are headed back to the all-league team, as is WR DJ Woods, giving Cincy a dynamite trio at the skill positions. However, the line is iffy in pass protection, turnovers have to be eliminated, and the receiving corps needs playmakers to step in for WR Armon Binns and TE Ben Guidugli. One possible rising star is JUCO transfer Kenbrell Thompkins, a former Tennessee commit, with the skills to bloom into an overnight sensation.

Defense: No program in the country brings back more starters than Cincinnati, promising news for a unit that struggled badly a year ago. In fact, not only is everyone returning, but 15 players who started a game in 2010 are still on campus. The Bearcats have no choice but to be better this fall. The strength on this side of the ball will be the defensive line, which boasts next-level DT Derek Wolfe and last year's leading sacker Brandon Mills. Mills, however, might not start if converted LB Walter Stewart remains at end, testament to this group depth and underrated talent. The leader of the defense, though, is actually a linebacker, tackling machine JK Schaffer. The biggest reclamation project is in the secondary, a group that got burned all season and was a microcosm for the defense's ability to manufacture turnovers. While the front seven ought to be fine, the defensive backfield is the key that unlocks the fortune of the 2011 D.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Isaiah Pead. Pead hasn't gotten nearly the national attention he's deserved since arriving in Cincinnati. It could be because of the amount of talent that's surrounded him, but it's about to change. An exciting, multi-dimensional weapon out of the backfield, he ran for more than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns on just 157 touches, adding 26 receptions for 190 yards and another score. A cutback runner, he gets through the hole in an instant and has the speed to jet through the secondary when the line is doing its job.

Best defensive player: Senior LB JK Schaffer. The Bearcats have a gem in the middle of the defense, a run-stopper who can also drop back into coverage and blanket a tight end. Schaffer has gradually bloomed into the leader of a veteran defense, making 111 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two forced fumbles in an all-star junior campaign. An ideal combination of athleticism, toughness, and instincts, he can sniff out the flow of a play better than any other Cincinnati defender.


Offense: 2010 was the textbook definition of a rebuilding season for the offense, and to further the clichés, it was the proverbial step back to take a giant leap forward. The passing game put up yards, but there were too many mistakes, and RB Tauren Poole was fantastic, but the ground game struggled. The Vol attack will be unstoppable in 2012 – Poole is the only senior projected starter - and it could be far, far better this year mostly because the line could be awesome. The freshmen who were thrown to the wolves last year can actually play, and now there are four really strong, really good sophomore starters and a nice junior left tackle in Dallas Thomas to form a better more consistent blocking unit. QB Tyler Bray has the moxie and the arm to be a special passer, and he has excellent explosive threats to work with. Poole won't get the press of other SEC running backs, but he's among the league's most effective runner.

Defense: A few adjustments were made from the Monte Kiffin Tampa-2 defense, and for the most part, the D did a good job. Yes, Oregon ran wild in Knoxville and UAB bombed away, but the production was a bit better than the overall stats might indicate. More of a pass rush is a must from the ends, the linebacking corps needs to find two new, reliable starters, and the secondary could use a more playmakers, but overall the potential is there for a better year. It all starts up front with former USC Trojan Malik Jackson manning the starting defensive tackle spot, and there's size across the line to help him out. Prentiss Waggner is a rising star safety who'll lead a veteran group of defensive backs that have to tighten up after giving up 200 passing yards or more to just about everyone. Linebacker is the question mark where a few true freshmen might have to upgrade the talent level for what should be a decent, but unspectacular group.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Tauren Poole. QB Tyler Bray will likely be the star of the show just because of the position and his ability to come out bombing, but Poole will be the team's steady offensive rock. He won't get any of the spotlight compared to the rest of the star backs in the SEC, but Poole has the combination of skills to become one of the league's best all¬-around players. He can hit the home run, he can catch, and he can pound away when needed.

Best defensive player: Senior DT Malik Jackson. There's a chance that safety Prentiss Waggner becomes one of the SEC's breakout stars, but Jackson will be the key to the front four no matter where he plays. Ideally a 3-4 end, the 6-5, 270-pound former USC Trojan, worked on the outside last year for a stretch before moving inside over the second half of the season. All of his five sacks came in a four-game stretch against South Carolina, Memphis, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt once he figured out what he was doing at tackle. With a big, good line around him, he should be one of the SEC's best interior pass rushers. He won't be this year's Nick Fairley, but he might not be that far off.